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Engineers, techies delve into the mysteries of brain

The following article, published in The Times of India covers the Harvard South Asia Institute Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginning Program (B4), which aims to aims to build a scientific research corridor and will engage scientists from India and Harvard through exchange programs: 1) Science and Technology Fellowships at Harvard and other peer institutions in the Boston area. 2) A two-week Young Scientists Development Course in Bangalore. The program builds upon SAI’s Resonance Course on Neuroscience in 2013.

 

72By Sreemoyee Chatterjee

BANGALORE – Imagine a human brain controlling the movement of a prosthetic arm just like a real one or a robot with motor skills exactly similar to that of humans or a machine with 100% vision accuracy like that of humans. A bunch of 25 young students of technology is now learning the multidisciplinary dimensions of neuroscience at a two weeklong workshop in the city.

The Harvard South Asia Institute workshop seeks to introduce Indian undergraduates and postgraduates to the excitement of brain science. Interestingly, all participants are either from electrical, mechanical, chemical or software engineering backgrounds or are students of bioscience and are driven by an eagerness to know all about the brain.

Venki N Murthy, professor of molecular and cellular biology and director of undergraduate studies in neurobiology at Harvard University, and Laura Magnotti, advisor, neurobiology concentration at Harvard University, are conducting the workshop at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bengaluru.

The programme is a joint initiative of the Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI) and Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB) and is funded by Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Karnataka Biotech and IT Services (KBITS).

202Students are learning about neuroscience, the molecules, the cells, the neurons, vast researches on neuroscience and how they can merge their own competence with neuroscience to come up with something new, unique and useful.

“In medicine, neuroscience is taught in a typical way or is included as a mere fact-based section of biology. However, neuroscience is hugely broad and encompasses biotechnology and bioinformatics as well. It’s not restricted to mere facts, but is a physiological process of real time. Taking inspiration from a real brain and devising electronic stimulation or comparing computer’s vision with an animal’s vision can create wonders and our workshop aims to do exactly that,” said Prof Murthy.

Speaking about the structured Indian curriculum, Laura Magnotti said: “Indian curriculum is too restricted to a particular pattern of education where students, parents and the institutes think that an engineer doesn’t need to know a lot about neuroscience which is considered a part of biology. However, the concept of interdisciplinary approach that is widely practiced in the US is the current trend in education and students get to learn a lot of new things.”

The workshop has graduates and undergraduates, who usually do not sit for classes together, learning together and helping each other enhance their knowledge.

15822864_10211655273878538_8158162097545753191_n“A science project in India is too time bound and everything has a strict deadline. But such projects cannot be completed within a specific time as the knowledge involved is endless. We should realize that science is a way of learning, not a key to get jobs,” said Prof Murthy.

The 25 participants have been picked from 160 applicants. On completion of the workshop, the duo from Harvard plans to collect feedback from the students and keep a track of how they utilize their combined knowledge of technology and neuroscience.

“I did my thesis on brain imaging and behaviour from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, and got used to the terminologies of neuroscience,” says Akshay Kumar, course participant.  Though I’m an electrical engineer, I am eager to pursue higher studies in neuroscience and have applied for PhD in the US. Using my tech knowledge, I have developed computational model for vision in the workshop which helps perceive vision in a better way.”

Learn more about the B4 Program.

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